Written by: Beth Rutledge | Photography provided by: RiverLights
The allure of a scenic stretch on the banks of the Cape Fear River isn’t new. In fact, the water’s edge at RiverLights, one of this city’s newest planned communities, has beckoned since native people camped there, since a rice plantation regularly floated its harvests into downtown Wilmington, and since the Cameron family bought it years ago.
In 2006, the Camerons sold the 1400 acres that are now RiverLights to Newland Communities. Landowners in North Carolina since 1815, the Camerons have a history of being particular about the way their real estate is used. Bruce Cameron, Jr. bought the sandy oasis that is now Figure Eight Island in 1955, and, along with his brother, saw to it that the land would never house commercial or high-rise developments.
When Newland, the nation’s largest private developer of urban mixed-use and planned residential communities, began creating RiverLights, they upheld the Cameron family’s tradition of honoring the land even as they built upon it.
Since its grand opening in 2016, RiverLights has received an award from the Lower Cape Fear Stewardship Development Program for Significant Achievement in Sustainability. For every tree that is removed, another is planted. Wetland habitats are being safeguarded, green spaces abound. And while water conservation and the preservation of historically important sites and artifacts help make the development unique, there’s so much more to this riverfront haven.
It Takes a Village
Pull into Marina Village at RiverLights, and what may strike you first is that there’s not a single house in sight. The pastel candy-colored buildings where the Information Center and Magnolia Social Café welcome visitors and residents have retail space on the main level, and everything about the design encourages you to get out and experience your surroundings.
This area serves as a town square, complete with parks, paths, and water views. Live Oak Commons, across from the café, is dotted with hammocks and a Little Free Library, and shaded by stately trees. It’s a natural gathering space, one that hosts concerts, oyster roasts, movies, RiverLights’ Yoga & Coffee events, and the Farmers’ Market.
And these happenings are not exclusively for residents. On the contrary, RiverLights prides itself on being a community within a community, welcoming all.
“We’re not gated,” says Kace Coble, Marketing Manager of RIverLights. “We don’t want to keep people out, we want to invite them in. There’s so much to enjoy here for families and people of every age… Walk the trails, watch the sunset, eat at Smoke.”
More to Explore
The trails Coble mentions will ultimately total eight miles in length, meandering past a saltwater pool,playgrounds, and the vast freshwater Lake at RiverLights. Currently, five miles of multi-use trails attract biking and running groups, and a triathlon was held there in August. Wilmington Women’s Half Marathon will kick off at the nearby Watermark Marina on November 19, with participants dashing across RiverLights’ paved trails and through a landscape of water, native grasses, and trees.
Of course, not every day includes a race, and if you prefer your nature at a slower speed, The Boardwalk is for you. Parallel to the Cape Fear River, this slightly elevated footpath winds along under a canopy of leaves, delivering some of the area’s most peaceful panoramas. Bonus: if you’re walking Fido and realize you’ve forgotten a bag, RiverLights has you covered with a nearby pick-up and disposal stand.
The Boardwalk also leads to Smoke on the Water, RiverLights’ anchor restaurant. On any given night, themajority of its guests are non-residents eager to make the short drive—less than five miles from downtown—to one of Wilmington’s hottest new eateries. It serves fresh seafood and inventive regional fare similar to its much-lauded sister restaurant, The Fork n Cork.
Smoke on the Water also offers the kind of postcard-perfect water views that dreams are made of, and soon it will be joined by other dining establishments. RiverLights aims to showcase not only local beauty, but local business, too. Each restaurant in RiverLights will be independent, just like the retailers continuing to set up shop at Marina Village.
With the sun dappling on the river behind her, Coble says what you already may feel after spending just ashort time at RiverLights, “This is a community that makes the most of a special place. Whether you live down the road, or downtown, or the beach, we want everyone to feel at home here.”